Saturday, 31 January 2009

The City Uncovered

I've been watching Evan Davis’s series The City Uncovered (BBC2, about finance) on the laptop with iPlayer. Something about watching television on a computer screen, small or large, seems to make it a different and more powerful experience. Perhaps it’s something to do with sitting much closer to a computer screen than to a TV set; perhaps it’s the sense I have that the things I see on my computer screen are chosen by me in a way that television programmes aren’t.

The City Uncovered was excellent, as is all Davis’s work, in illuminating a complex issue. But what particularly struck me watching these three programmes was how good television documentaries are as film. This is a series about banks and investors but it was visually stunning.

Years ago I think I would have despised this aesthetic treatment of a serious issue that demanded rationality in its handling. Now I don’t. The visuals for the most part add nothing to the logic of the argument, but I don’t find they impede it either. If they’re simply sugaring an unappetising pill, that’s ok. I love the shots of stampeding herds of wildebeest, the Lloyds building seen from the air, Evan Davis arriving outside a big bank on a motorbike or cruising a California highway in an open car, Brooklyn Bridge seen from unusual angles under strange lighting conditions, the customers tucking into their hash browns in a diner in Silicon Valley. The photography/filming is intensely pleasurable in its own right and I think we don’t usually appreciate that it’s as fine as anything we see in celebrated feature films.

Strictly speaking, in order to evaluate Evan’s programme in the critical spirit it calls for one should no doubt listen to the soundtrack only or, better, get hold of the script. That would allow one to address the logos of the programme without distraction. But classical rhetoric tells the public speaker that logos isn’t enough; one has to help the pure argument along so that it gets through to the audience. See documentaries as a rhetorical genre and one can appreciate that changes of scene mark shifts in the argument, that images of boarded-up houses make one feel how mortgage foreclosure has material and personal consequences and that the frenzy of a trading floor drives home Davis’s case that markets habitually go mad. In remembering the programme I'll associate points in the argument with the sights shown on the screen, and this will aid memory.

But mainly I just like it. Certainly, what Evan Davis looks like has got nothing to do with the validity of his case; but I enjoy seeing what he’s like in different situations, face-to-face with a super-rich banker or top Harvard economist and then strolling on a track through a wheat field with a farmer who’s explaining how he decides what he’ll grow next year. This is television, and we simply have to accept if we’re to appreciate it that it’s no good bringing a puritan asceticism to the experience. For television we have to be, in Richard Lanham’s terms, homo rhetoricus, not homo seriosus.

Tuesday, 27 January 2009

Montaigne on writing

I've been looking at Montaigne’s Essays, because they’re so often mentioned as special. Dipping into one I thought how modern it seemed, yet I knew Montaigne was a French classic and even assumed in my ignorance that he was 17th or even 18th century. Not a bit of it: 1533-92 – a generation before Shakespeare. The Essays are lively, opinionated and personal; they seem to open the way for all sorts of developments in English, many of them centuries later. (I believe the line of transmission was something like Montaigne-Bacon-Dryden-Addison and Steele -- and then there’s no stopping English essayists.)

Here’s a chunk, from ‘On some lines of Virgil’. It’s about writing, one of the themes of this blog – of interest, perhaps, to those concerned with English teaching.

The essay is full of Latin quotes. Montaigne has earlier cited the lines of Virgil mentioned in the title, and he’s just quoted Lucretius. The words he refers to in the first sentence come from both. (It doesn't matter if you don't understand them; the point is the way Montaigne thinks about words. If there’s demand from the classics-thirsty I’ll be pleased to supply the Latin, + the provided translation.)

I'll offer some comments after the passage.

When I chew over those words, rejicit, pascit, inhians, and then molli fovet, medullas, labefacta, pendet, percurrit, and Lucretius' noble circunfusa mother to Virgil's elegant infusus, I feel contempt for those little sallies and verbal sports which have been born since then. Those fine poets had no need for smart and cunning word-play; their style is full, pregnant with a sustained and natural power. With them not the tail only but everything is epigram: head, breast and feet. Nothing is strained. Nothing drags. Everything progresses steadily on its course: 'Contextus totus virilis est; non sunt circa flosculos occupati.' [The whole texture of their work is virile: they were not concerned with little purple passages.] Here is not merely gentle eloquence where nothing offends: it is solid and has sinews; it does not so much please you as invade you and enrapture you. And the stronger the mind the more it enraptures it. When I look upon such powerful means of expression, so dense and full of life, I do not conclude that it is said well but thought well. It is the audacity of the conception which fills the words and makes them soar: 'Pectus est quod dissertum facit.'[It is the mind which makes for good style.] Nowadays when men say judgement they mean style, and rich concepts are but beautiful words.

Descriptions such as these are not produced by skilful hands but by having the subject vividly stamped upon the soul. Gallus writes straightforwardly because his concepts are straightforward. Horace is not satisfied with some superficial vividness; that would betray his sense; he sees further and more clearly into his subject: to describe itself his mind goes fishing and ferreting through the whole treasure-house of words and figures of speech; as his concepts surpass the ordinary, it is not ordinary words that he needs…. The same applies here: the sense discovers and begets the words, which cease to be breath but flesh and blood. They signify more than they say….

When I am writing I can well do without the company and memory of my books lest they interfere with my style.… But I cannot free myself from Plutarch so easily. He is so all-embracing, so rich that for all occasions, no matter how extravagant a subject you have chosen, he insinuates himself into your work, lending you a hand generous with riches, an unfailing source of adornments. It irritates me that those who pillage him may also be pillaging me: I cannot spend the slightest time in his company without walking off with a slice of breast or a wing.

For this project of mine it is also appropriate that I do my writing at home, deep in the country, where nobody can help or correct me and where I normally never frequent anybody who knows even the Latin of the Lord's Prayer let alone proper French. I might have done it better somewhere else, but this work would then have been less mine: and its main aim and perfection consists in being mine, exactly. I may correct an accidental slip (I am full of them, since I run on regardless) but it would be an act of treachery to remove such imperfections as are commonly and always in me. When it is said to me, or I say to myself. 'Your figures of speech are sown too densely'; 'This word here is pure Gascon'; 'This is a hazardous expression' - I reject no expressions which are used in the streets of France: those who want to fight usage with grammar are silly - 'Here is an ignorant development'; 'Here your argument is paradoxical'; 'This one is too insane'; 'You are often playing about; people will think that you are serious when you are only pretending': 'Yes,' I reply, 'but I correct only careless errors not customary ones. Do I not always talk like that? Am I not portraying myself to the life? If so, that suffices! I have achieved what I wanted to: everyone recognizes me in my book and my book in me.'
Michel de Montaigne (1993/1580-95), The Essays: a selection, translated by M. A. Screech, Penguin Classics, pp.299-302

My reactions:

1. What an independent mind, insisting on displaying himself warts and all, including (in this essay) all sorts about the lusts of old age. He often feels 20th century, his honesty and desire to be open reminding me of, say, Meursault in Camus’ L’Etranger.

2. His notion of writing seems to anticipate the Romantics: powerful language comes not from fastidious attention to language (artful rhetorical crafting, as practised by his despised recent writers) but from the pressure of thoughts and intentions.

3. ‘Concepts’, images, thoughts, ideas etc may not in reality have such a definite independent existence prior to their expression in language; nevertheless, Montaigne is onto a truth about our experience of expression. We often have a ‘felt sense’, as someone called it, of something pressing for verbal articulation and then, indeed, we go‘fishing and ferreting through the whole treasure-house of words andfigures of speech’, to find the formulation that fits. (Must look up what the French word was that translates ‘concepts’.)

4. On fancy writing, compare the architect Adolf Loos: ‘Ornament is a crime’. King's Cross, not St Pancras. A real modern spirit, there.

5. Like the Romantics (Preface to the Lyrical Ballads, e.g.) Montaigne values the language of ‘real life’ over that of books (though he can’t help himself imitating Plutarch).

6. His prizing of the Greek and Latin classics above the moderns. Although it seems that his knowledge of Plutarch, who wrote in Greek, came from a French translation (by Amyot), the power of Plutarch’s ‘concepts’ was such as to shape even a translator’s French into a language of unsurpassed power. For us, so much prose and poetry of quality have been written since antiquity that the ancient writers aren’t such an overwhelming inspiration. But in Montaigne’s time this wasn’t so – if you wanted to experience what language could do at full stretch, you went to Latin (which was Montaigne’s first language: his parents arranged it that Latin was all he was exposed to in his early years).

It wasn’t just a matter of language. As worked out in their writing, the thinking of the Greeks and Romans was more subtle, delicate and intelligent than anything to be found in French and English in the 16th century – or so it was thought. The education of a gentleman could only be in the ancient languages and literatures – what was the alternative?

I’m reminded of a book I read recently, The Stripping of the Altars by Eamon Duffy, that’s full of bits of medieval English writing, much of it by educated people. The writing struck me as like that of present-day ten-year-olds. Might write more on that, come to think of it.
Anyway: French as shaped by its native writers on their own offered too thin a resource; when infused with meanings carried across from classical texts, it became strong. (North’s Plutarch had something like a similar influence on English.)

Monday, 26 January 2009

Down in the jungle

Down in the jungle, living in a tent,
Better than a prefab – no rent

Down in the jungle, eating fish and chips,
Better than oranges – no pips

Wibsey Infants School playground, Bradford, 1945-8. Where did
they come from? Were there other verses?

Ibid: raincoats (gabardine) worn as cloaks, caps on backwards, boys in a line linked with arms round shoulders sweeping the playground: the chant (strong stress, first syllable of each line):

playing at
cowboys an’

playing at
cowboys an’

Or, last line, ‘

Tuesday, 20 January 2009

Architecture of the wagged finger

Peter Cook on British architecture at last year’s Venice Biennale reminds me of some reactions (Paula Scher) to the Helvetica typeface (see recent Helvetica posting, 19th January: Can a typeface nag?):

Using Venice as a point of cultural definition also involves the much-maligned ‘national' pavilions and you can never help the instinct to make a beeline for your own mother ship. So Shock! Horror! Despair! Sadness! Distaste! Misery! Misery! Misery! At a level of pretension that leaves one gasping, the British Pavilion takes seriousness to a new dimension of Cromwellian piety. While legitimately criticising the banalities of consumer-commercial British housing of the last twenty years the curator, Ellis Woodman, presents a show of quite deliberate interpretational mannerism [so] as to make his real intention very clear: under the mantle of reasoned thinking this is actually a show of Puritan zeal, where guru Tony Fretton is for once outmanoeuvred by Sergison Bates who ponderouslv come across as even grimmer than their familiar grim.

For those who have a pictorial memory of the architecture of Fascist Italy comes immediately to mind. Indeed, the stripped-down presentation accentuates this impression. Friends from other places kept referring to it as ‘dry’', but had no need to recall a history of tedium and architectural whinge that occurs from time-to-time on the British scene: the deliberately dull accompanied by the pious drone - the architecture of the wagged finger. Thank God that history suggests these periods are usually followed by a moment of Great British Invention and playfulness.

Architectural Review, November 2008, p.28

Monday, 19 January 2009

Beyond 'first-order' reading

In an exchange we've been having about ‘literacies’ in language and other media/modes, Mark Reid, who works in film education, writes

I think you can similarly go beyond basic, automatic decoding of moving image, into higher, more sophisticated shapings in film. We see it so rarely though - it's to do with style, - i think style in film is as intrinsically important as it is in prose, but just as hard to capture - and making the 'film sentence' (the phrase is Anthony Minghella's) speak with the voices of other films, heteroglossia-style. I watched a film called Birth over xmas, twice (this is rare for me!). Every frame is freighted with resonances from other films, and way beyond a crude 'postmodern collage' sense; it speaks with the voices snatched from other films. 'Reading' Birth is richer if one has seen films like Rosemary's Baby, The Shining, not arcane stuff, just cineliterate work. (And also richer if you've read Henry James and Edith Wharton - or seen the two or three very good film 'versions'.)

Right, I'm sure – I don’t have the cineliteracy to check it for myself. And it offers another way into one of my interests, what’s involved in education in literature.

Up to a point, people who can read (in the usual sense etc) can follow a story, just as at one level we can all follow a film (we can see what this frame is an image of, we know without working it out that there’s a lapse of time between these two). So what is there beyond that point? what is education in these things at a more advanced level? Mark indicates two things (they overlap but I think they’re separable in theory): style and intertextual allusion (frames that are already partly familiar from other works).

In written prose and poetry, the style is working on us, presumably, whether we’re aware of it or not, and intertextual allusion probably the same if we’ve read the other works (or examples of the other genres). Literary education – as opposed to just reading -- works to make us consciously aware: not for its own sake – because analysis is good, or because that sort of exercise is scholarly or rigorous or ‘proper academic study’; but to enhance our experience of the work. Admittedly some sorts of analysis can ‘kill a work’, as they say, but the idea is that the student notices more of what’s there.

What’s happening is that an aspect of the novel or poem (say) starts to present itself to us even though it isn’t there: no amount of looking at what is there -- this sentence or scene – will find the similar sentence or scene from Pride and Prejudice. Only the recall of Austen will do that, the bringing to mind of something that isn’t there, another book that’s not on the desk in front of me but is still on the shelf or in the library or given to Oxfam years ago.

When we start being aware of texts as the visible parts of vast webs, our experience stops being simply of the immediate words and sentence, and starts to be something abstract, a set of relations that aren’t available to direct inspection. The concrete presence of what’s before us gets less substantial and takes on the character of a shadow or echo or the presented front of something big behind it that’s not visible. What immediately presents itself ceases to be all the reality there is.

But then, if the process is going well, the opposite phase of the oscillation kicks in and we snap back to what’s in front us, which now appears both more concrete or tangible and ‘freighted’ with a sense of the abstract network of relations it’s enmeshed in. And then back again, and so on.

Style of course is partly a matter of which resonances get activated. But it’s also characteristic lexical choices, sentence shapes, types of transition from sentence to sentence and prosodic patterns (sound and rhythm). Again, the patterns those things form aren’t there in the immediate way that a particular sentence is in a spontaneous reading; we construct them unconsciously and, if education is doing its stuff, perhaps consciously as well.

Can a typeface nag?

Can a typeface nag? Paula Scher, herself a typographic designer, thinks so. The Helvetica typeface is for her part of “a conspiracy of my mother’s to remind me to keep my room clean”; Helvetica is a prim governess from whom typeface designers have needed to liberate themselves, too uptight, too corporate, too clean and complacent.

The pics I've taken are Helvetica – I think. It comes in different versions, of course. One clue is supposed to be the horizontal terminals on c, e and s.

The typeface was designed in Switzerland (hence Helvetica) in 1957. It was a manifestation of the need to reconstruct after the war, part of the emergence of a modernist international Swiss style.

In Holland, the designer
Wim Crouwel used Helvetica in designs for stamps, the telephone book and school textbooks. “It was like our mother tongue,” a Dutch commentator remarked.

Image from Wikipedia.

Arial is Microsoft’s Helvetica.

The information here comes from the film
Helvetica by Gary Hustwit (2007).

Lovely images, interesting history, but it’s always fascinating as well to hear the way specialist professionals talk about things we’d find very hard to articulate – e.g. the feel of different typefaces, what a typeface

A couple of designers illustrate how they talk about typefaces: essentially they use metaphor. They’re liable to say things like:

“No, this has that 1975 rocket early NASA feeling. It’s need to have the orange plastic Olivetti typewriter Roman holiday espresso feeling.” (Wonderful how English can use those piled-up nouns as pre-modifiers. It’s a feature that seems totally absent from respectable Victorian prose, like Trollope.)

“It has that belt and suspenders look. It needs to be elegant hand-lasted shoe.”

According to many of the speakers, Helvetica is classic, the last word in a particular line of development. Neutral, democratic, reassuring, solid – those are the sort of words that are used of it.

Which is why many, like
Paula Scher, have revolted against it; hence the Grunge typography of many ‘80s record covers and magazines.

Wim Crouwel says,
“It was neutral and neutral was a word that we loved. It shouldn’t have a meaning in itself. The meaning was in the content of the text.”

Someone else:
"Helvetica all about the negative spaces. The space between the characters holds the letter. You can’t imagine anything moving. It’s so firm. It’s a letter that lives in a powerful matrix of surrounding space.”

Hmm. Would I have said that?

Michael Bierut, Graphic Designer, holds up a 1950s magazine and describes how typography in that period showed every kind of bad habit:

“You’ve got zany hand lettering everywhere, squashed typography to signify elegance, exclamation points exclamation points exclamation points, cursive wedding invitation typography down here…. This was everywhere in the 50s.”

And on the advent of Helvetica:

"I imagine there was a time when it just felt so good to take stuff that was old, dusty and homemade and crappy-looking and replace it with Helvetica. It just must have felt like you were scraping the crud off filthy old things and restoring them to shining beauty. And in fact corporate identity in the 60s, that’s what it sort of consisted of. You know, clients would come in and they’d have like piles of goofy old brochures from the 50s that had like shapes on them, like goofy bad photographs, they had some letterhead with Amalgamated Widget on the top and some, maybe a script typeface above Amalgamated Widget , it would have like an engraving showing their headquarters, you know, Peduka, Iowa, with smokestacks belching smoke you know.

And then you get a corporate identity consultant c.1965, 1966 and they would take that and lay it here and say ‘Here’s your current stationery and all it implies, and this is what we’re proposing.’ Next to that, next to the belching smokestack and the nuptual [sic] script and the ivory paper they’d have a crisp bright white piece of paper and instead of Amalgamated Widget founded 1867 it just would say, Widgco, in Helvetica Medium.

Can you imagine how bracing and thrilling that was, that must have seemed like you’d crawled through a desert, your mouth just caked with filthy dust, and someone’d offer you a clear refreshing still icy glass of water to clear away all this horrible kind of like burden of history. It must have been fantastic, and you know it must have been fantastic because it was done over and over and over again.”

With Grunge anything went – no rules, no constraints, and in the end nowhere else to go. According to the film, if there’s to be a new classic typeface to replace Helvetica, it hasn’t appeared yet.

Sunday, 18 January 2009

Lasantha Wickrematunge

Once in a while we get a great piece of journalism. When this happens, schools – which most likely means English -- should make their students aware of it. For English teachers there are two reasons why.

The first is that English should participate in the education of democratic citizens by making young people aware of what's being said by people who can say things well about interesting public issues.

The second is that English is concerned with knowledge. It’s often forgotten how much students learn in English, not about language or literature but about the world. This is why it so often seems to encroach on territories that are the object of specialist disciplines, particularly sociology, political science and cultural studies.

We don’t teach those disciplines because we stop short of systematic instruction in concepts and methods; but there are other ways of engaging with the world of public affairs than those of academic scholarship. Our students are using those modes whenever in their English lessons they talk and write about crime or racism or youth unemployment or game shows. Good journalism shows us these non-specialist but disciplined modes of engagement pursued to a professional standard. It provides the model for an important class of work in English.

Now: this week, how many English teachers have read with their students the posthumous editorial by the Sri Lankan newspaper editor Lasantha Wickrematunge? As the Guardian explained on 13th January, ‘This extraordinary article by the editor of the Sri Lankan Sunday Leader was published three days after he was shot dead in Colombo’ ; in it he predicts his own murder by government agents. The text is here.

It’s a fine piece of writing. It’s a magnificent rallying cry in defence of a free press. It’s a powerful protest against tyranny and the cruelty of governments insufficiently restrained by law and democracy. It’s a beautiful example of the quality of the English written in many places outside the predominantly Anglophone world of Britain, North America, Australia, New Zealand etc.

Do political essays get read at all in English lessons outside a few Orwell pieces? Does anything contemporary in this genre ever get read? In the 1950s grammar schools our English teachers used to bring in the latest article that had struck them in the New Statesman, Guardian, Spectator, Listener, Observer etc., and would read them to us with an invitation to argue. If that practice has died it should be revived.

Sunday, 11 January 2009

1904: curriculum, schools – and Bradford

When the government replaced school boards with local education authorities (LEAs) in 1904 the Permanent Secretary to the Board of Education, Sir Robert Morant, was asked to produce a 'code' for public elementary schools.

The elementary schools were where most children spent the whole of their (often very short) school career. In age range they covered what later became primary and the first years of secondary education. Those older children who were not in elementary schools were in either independent schools or what were then called secondary schools: that is, grammar schools. The fees for these were more than most working class families could afford.

I've just seen the introduction to Morant’s Code and think it’s worth copying the opening here because it strikes me as surprisingly liberal. According to the book by Bradford Corporation that I found this in (see end for ref),

“the opening paragraphs of the introduction seemed 'like a breath of fresh air after the stifling atmosphere of the earlier codes'….”

'The purpose of the public elementary school is to form and strengthen
the character and to develop the intelligence of the children entrusted
to it, and to make the best use of the years available, in assisting both
boys and girls, according to their different needs, to fit themselves,
practically as well as intellectually, for the work of life.

'With this purpose in view it will be the aim of the school to train them
carefully in habits of observation and clear reasoning, so that they may
gain an intelligent acquaintance with some of the facts and laws of
nature, to arouse in them a lively interest in the ideals and achievements
of mankind, and to bring them to some familiarity with the literature
and history of their own country; to give them some power over language as an instrument of thought and expression, and while making them
conscious of the limitations of their knowledge, to develop in them such
a taste for good reading and thoughtful study as will enable them to
increase that knowledge in after years by their own efforts.

'The school must at the same time encourage to the utmost the
children's natural activities of hand and eye by suitable forms of practical work and manual instruction; and to afford them every opportunity for the healthy development of their bodies, not only by training them in
appropriate physical exercises and encouraging them in organised games
but also by instructing them in the working of some of the simpler laws
of health. It will be an important though subsidiary object of the school
to discover individual children who show promise of exceptional
capacity and to develop their special gifts (so far as this can be done
without sacrificing the interests of the majority of the children) so that
they may be qualified to pass at the proper age into secondary schools, and be able to derive the maximum of benefit from the education offered them.’”

As I said, it sounds liberal. But that was the curriculum – or rather the rhetoric of the curriculum; the structure of education was a different matter, the main purpose apparently being to deny the working class the chance of having anything like a grammar school education, except for the few who won scholarships.

Although the elementary school system in some LEAs generated more advanced senior elementary schools (higher grade schools and central schools), the regulations, as I understand it, strictly limited the curriculum to subjects that offered no competition to grammar schools and were deemed appropriate to working class occupations and station in life; and there was a strict upper limit on the age to which children could stay at school. Real academic advancement for bright working class children under the elementary school regulations was effectively precluded.

Incidentally, the book I found this in, produced by Bradford Corporation in 1970 to commemorate a hundred years of public education, tells an inspiring story of the achievement of a good education against such odds. Bradford, which through their MP W.E. Forster had been behind the 1870 Education Act and had pioneered school meals and medical services, was one of the most progressive authorities. For instance, they were determined to provide something better than the legal minimum for children after 11; they created a generous provision of secondary schools and central schools, and already in 1928 – well ahead of 1944, where it happened everywhere – introduced secondary modern schools: a clean break for all children at 11 (instead of carrying on in the same school until leaving age), a reorganisation to ensure the schools were big enough to offer a proper range of subjects and a redesigned curriculum. All this with a great deal of teacher involvement, through committees and working parties.

Bradford Corporation. (1970). Education in Bradford since 1870. Bradford, Educational Services Committee, Bradford Corporation, pp.159-60

Saturday, 10 January 2009

Walworth response

Awesome new email from Roy Boardman in Naples who really has the answers to some of the questions I posted -- he was a pupil under Arthur Harvey and really has the goods we're after. Unfortunately, his attempt to put his thoughts in the form of a blog comment went wrong, but fortunately he took the trouble to find my email, from the King's College London website.

So, the blog works beyond our dreams!

Seems what we need is a dedicated blog for our Walworth / Mina Road history research. We could post photos, documents etc as well as people's reminiscences. A job for the researcher we'll be employing, I think -- probably from April or May.

Meanwhile, anyone else with interesting memories, post a comment!

Tuesday, 6 January 2009

H.A. Twelves -- more

A year ago (5th January 2008) I posted an obituary piece I'd written about my sixth form French teacher at Bradford Grammar School, Mr H.A. Twelves. (To find it, click on the label ‘Twelves’ in the right hand margin.) People – ex-pupils -- have apparently found the piece by Googling Twelves, among them Tony Moore. The other day he added a Comment to that posting, as a result of which we had an email exchange. The substance of what Tony adds to his comment warrants a full posting of its own, so here it is:

"I can add a bit more. He met his wife Margaret at school: in French he was moved up a year and she messed up her exams and was moved down a year, which put them in the same class. His family were reportedly quite poor, which was I think why he went to Uni in Sheffield -- so he could live at home and avoid any boarding costs. Presumably he got all the scholarships which were on offer.

His first teaching job was at a school in Barnsley or somewhere near there. He was just about settling in when war broke out and the school decided that it didn't like employing conscientious objectors and kicked him out. I think this shook him. But he was more than happy to move to BGS, which was much more his kind of school in all sorts of ways.

Of course he never had any trouble with discipline. He kept his predecessor's (probably much used) cane in his study, but mostly as a reminder to himself of what the school had escaped. He said he never imposed a detention on any child in his entire teaching career, except when he was Second Master and boys were brought to him for punishment. He quite peerless in his power of verbal rebuke. And yet also able to wipe the slate clean: I was once summoned to his study to be told off for copying from a neighbour during a written test and I said I was sorry and that was the end of it.

HAT wrote quite a lot of articles in church magazines and a few booklets, and you might hear his voice in this one.

Mind you, where he got his accent from I don't know!

So far as I know he first went to France as a uni student, to Caen; but I don't know for how long. It was probably not a full year, as would be the case today. I don't know how good his accent was either, but I remember he was very fussy about ours -- much more than any of the other French teachers we had (getting us to chant "un bon vin blanc"). And he praised the intonation of the Loire -- he claimed that the aristocracy used to dispatch their youth from Paris to their chateaux during the summer, with the result that the local twang became received pronunciation ...or King's English.

He and Margaret spent many of their summers in France, travelling by car. He reckoned he'd been pretty much everywhere in the country. I don't think he had a favourite place, but he concentrated more on Paris and the area around Nimes for preaching purposes (Nimes is a Protestant area and generally felt by Christadelphians to be more sympathetic). Peter (his eldest) told me that in his youth he and HAT used to go on the train to some town with a couple of backpacks full of leaflets advertising a couple of public lectures, having booked a room in some local hall in advance, and they would spend a couple of days posting them through letterboxes then hope and pray some people would turn up to the lectures.

As for education, he would have been appalled at the pressing of buttons to achieve grades and the focusing on a dictated curriculum. Far better to know your stuff and then treat the exam as a minor distraction.

He was sympathetic, though, to, the scientists of former years who failed Latin and found they needed it for Oxbridge entrance; and who had to mug up on it very hard and very fast. Of course, his pass rate for this group was 100%."

Tony and I agreed, incidentally, in our surprise at how what a high proportion of the staff of the school were unimaginative and indeed incompetent. If that intake had been taught by teachers who were mainly as bright as the pupils, the sky would have been the limit.

Sunday, 4 January 2009


Damn. While attempting to publish the previous entry (Walworth / Mina Road) I got an error message to say that my Labels could not total more than 200 characters. I'd tried to add the names of teachers as Labels, in the hope that Google would be more likely to pick them up.

Not sure what to do about this. Weed my existing labels? switch to another blog provider? Any advice, please?

Walworth School / Mina Road School

I'm hoping some people will find this by Googling the school’s name. (Its official name from 1946 was Walworth School, but it was often known by its older name of Mina Road School, dating from at least 1882.) Mina Road is off the Old Kent Road in the Walworth district of Southwark, in South London.

Walworth School no longer exists, having been replaced in 2007 by Walworth Academy. It was established in 1946 as an ‘experimental’ or ‘interim’ comprehensive school, in the buildings and with many of the staff of what had been a ‘central’ school. The school was regarded as highly successful and was important and interesting in a number of ways, one of which was its leading role in reforming English teaching in London.

Briefly, the point of this is that I'm involved in producing a history of the teaching of English in this school and two others. We’re going from after the war – 1945 – to about 1965, and we’re collecting memories from people who remember their experience of English lessons at Walworth.

We’d especially like to hear from people who were taught English by:-
Mr Arthur Harvey
Miss Judith Wild
Mr Hall
Mr Gus Greely
Mr Harold Rosen
Miss Pip Porchetta
Miss Valerie Avery/Noakes
Mr John Dixon
Mr Leslie Stratta
Mr Simon Clements
Mr Charlie Stuart-Jervis
Mr Andrew Salkey
Mr Alec or Alex McLeod.

If anyone out there has kept any of their English work, we’d love to see it. Or if you know anyone who may have.

To get in touch, add a Comment to this blog posting (click on the link at the end of this). It won’t automatically be posted on the blog but will first be emailed to me for my approval. If you want your message to be just a private communication to me, say so: I won’t publish it and I'll send you my email address so we can communicate in confidence. But I'm also pleased to publish anything appropriate if that’s your wish.

I'm involved in this history project as one of my jobs (privileges!) as Senior Visiting Research Fellow (i.e. retired lecturer) at King's College London. I taught at Walworth myself from 1964 to 1971.

I'm working most closely with Patrick Kingwell, an ex-pupil of Walworth, formerly a senior officer of Southwark Council and an active local historian. Also with three colleagues at the University of London Institute of Education: Dr John Hardcastle, Professor Richard Andrews and Dr David Crook. Between us we’ve just been awarded a generous research grant by the Leverhulme Trust to continue the work for three years and produce a book.

Thursday, 1 January 2009

Bradford photos on Flickr

As promised some time ago, I've posted my Bradford photos on Flickr (shared photo site). Here’s how to see them. (I've added my Flickr page to my Links -- see right hand margin, below the long list of Labels.)

Go to Flickr.
In the Search box type my username, Utpictura
The page that comes up will have three headings: Photos, Groups, People. Click on People.
The next page is mine. Click on the icon to the left of my name and my ‘Photostream’ (all my photos) will come up.
The easiest way is then to click on Sets.

The Bradford set is called ‘Great Horton, Bradford, October 2008’.